How To Brew That First Batch
The first thing that you'll need to get before you start brewing is a three to five gallon boiling pot. You can use stainless steel or "enamel-on-steel." If you use enamel-on-steel (canning pots are your typical enamel-on-steel pots) make sure that it doesn't have any chips in it that will come in contact with the beer. This could possibly taint your beer with metallic off-tastes. Also, try not to use aluminum boiling pots - these can also potentially give your beer metallic flavors under certain conditions. You will also need to acquire a nice long-handled stirring spoon (plastic, wood or stainless steel) and a wire metal mesh kitchen strainer, or colander, (plastic or stainless steel) that doesn't have rust on it.
OK, you have your equipment. I am assuming that you bought a starter kit from Main Street, or from a reputable homebrew store. The night before you are going to brew go to a supermarket and buy a gallon of "mountain-spring water" or "drinking water." This should cost you about 85 cents from the local supermarket. Put it in your freezer. (Distilled water will work fine, but, typically, beer benefits from the addition of minerals. So, in the future, try to use non-distilled H2O.) You are going to freeze this into a solid chunk of ice to be used later. This is not a *necessary* step, but it will make Life easier. (It is used as a "chilling" mechanism, and, no, you cannot use ice cubes from your fridge, nor buy a block of ice from a machine - they are both potentially contaminated.)
Next day: time to brew: If you are using grain, put the crushed flavoring grains in a cheesecloth sock (each cheesecloth sock we sell at Main Street fits about 12 ounces of grain - do not cram more into each sock, you will restrict extraction of flavor and color). Put the sock(s) into your brewpot with two to three gallons of cold tap water. If you purchased one of our five-gallon stockpots, use three gallons of water. More water in your boilpot will produce a better quality beer. People often ask about the quality of the water they are using. Rule of thumb: as long as your tap water tastes fine, and you enjoy drinking it, you are safe to use it. If you do not like to drink your tap water, use filtered or bottled water good water makes good beer!!
Submerge the grain socks (they will look like beanbags) under the cold water and turn on the heat. Stirring occasionally, raise the heat to 180 degrees F. - this should take about thirty minutes on a normal house stovetop. If you are using a propane burner with lots of BTU power, be sure to have the grain socks - one way or another - in the pot full of water for at least thirty minutes: this will give you proper extraction. Then fish out the sock(s) with a pair of barbecue tongs, or a couple of spoons (Beware, they will be hot!) and give them a good squeeze - just like you would a tea bag. The water should be a malty, rich color, whcih can vary depending upon the grains used and the style of beer you are making. Now throw out the grain bag(s) and bring the flavored, colored water to a full, rolling boil.
Now is the time to add your malt extract syrup. If you are using a tub of bulk extract: 1) beware that the handles of the tub can potentially come off very easily! Do not hold your tub upside down by the handles. The handle may slip off, the bucket may fall into the boiling water and it can be a pain to retrieve. You may also get scalded, so BE CAREFUL! Hold the bucket by its body, not by its handles.
2) next, beware of the very thick malt going straight to the bottom of your boiling water pot and scorching on the hot metal below. STIR THE MALT WELL AS YOU POUR IT IN TO PREVENT IT FROM BURNING. If you don't feel that you can comfortably do this, take the pot off of the heat, put in the malt, stir well, then put the pot back on the hot burner. Do NOT spend twenty minutes scraping out your malt bucket with a spatula without thinking you have a huge lump stuck to the bottom of your pot - you will. (And it will be burning onto the bottom of your pot!) Stir well. Once you have quickly stirred the malt off of the bottom of the pot, you can scoop up some boiling hot water out of your stockpot, and slosh it around inside your malt bucket. This will help loosen the sticky malt and quickly clean out all your malt. Add everything into your boiling pot.
3) beware (BEWARE, BEWARE) that ten minutes or so after you add the malt extract, as you continue to heat the beer, the "wort" will again come into a boil. As this dense malty solution comes up to a boil it MAY form a thick layer of lemon meringue/cappuccino foam on its surface which can VERY QUICKLY rise up off the surface of the liquid and foam right on out of your pot onto your stove and make a huge mess. If this starts to happen, BE PREPARED and lift the pot quickly off of the heat with two potholders. (Have the pot holders on your hands BEFORE the foam starts to rise!) Once you lift the pot, the foam will settle down. Put the pot back on the hot burner and it will quickly foam up again. Take it quickly off, and repeat this five or six times. (Do not worry if it does not happen - that's very OK, too, and some people never see a foam-over. They are lucky.) You may need to lower the heat, stir the foam, etc., but trust me, the foaming will eventually lose its support and go away on its own.
Now, Bring your wort into a comfortable, rolling boil. You want the beer to be at more than a simmer, but not boiling and foaming out of your pot. A rolling boil typically "churns" from the middle and pushes toward the edges of the pot. You can adjust your heat as needed to maintain this "rolling" action. Good boil activity will assure a proper hop extraction.
Take your hops out of the refrigerator and divide them into 1 ounce and 1/2 ounce piles as necessary for your recipe. (A two-ounce pile divided into two equal piles make (two) one-ounce piles. A one-ounce pile divided into half makes (two) half-ounce piles.)
ADD YOUR HOPS ACCORDING TO A SET RECIPE! WHEN YOU ORDER A RECIPE THROUGH MAIN STREET, I WILL INCLUDE A SHEET FILLED OUT WITH THE PROPER INFORMATION!!!
During this sixty minute boil, you will have some free time and you can slip away and sterilize your primary fermenter. We like to use 6 or 8-gallon food-grade buckets for primary fermentation, sterilizing them with BTF Iodophor. BTF is MUCH easier and safer and less frustrating to use than bleach. If you are using bleach, please re-think your reasons. Iodophor is a god-send. If you don't yet use it, then you are wasting a lot of your time. Please go here for info on bleach vs. Iodophor. Most people sterilize their fermenters in the bathtub. Add in your airlock, rubber stopper and colander/strainer. Soak everything for 10 to 20 minutes, and rinse (according to the directions of the sterilizer you are using) after your beer is finished boiling. Iodophor needs just a minimal rinse, so I like to just splash off any excess yellow that might collect at the bottom of the fermenter.
Back to the kitchen: your boil will typically last 60 minutes, with hops being added at one or more times during that boil. Keep your hops loose and NEVER bag them. At the end of the sixty minute boil, turn off the heat, move your pot to a cold burner, and put the lid on the pot for the very first time (never lid a boiling beer pot, it will foam over very quickly). Now go get your sterilized fermenter.
Remember the gallon of frozen water? Take it out of the freezer, run hot water over the outside of it (in your kitchen sink) and within a few minutes - after the ice thaws slightly - it will break free from the plastic "shell" and you will feel it wobbling around inside. Break the U-shaped handle in order to keep the ice within from getting hung-up. At this time, cut the bottom end of the plastic open like a trapdoor and - BANG - the gallon of ice should slide out and crash into the fermenter. Add another gallon of cold tap water into your fermenter. You now have two gallons of ice water in the fermenter.
Carefully pour your hot wort out of your stockpot through the STERILIZED strainer into the ice water in the fermenter. Rinse the caught hops with a little cold tap water, then top off your fermenter to five gallons (which is about an inch below the BOTTOM rung of our six-gallon buckets, or up to the five-gallon mark on our 8-gallon buckets). Put the lid on the fermenter, and put the rubber stopper and airlock in the hole in the lid. The airlock chambers should be filled with water up the lines etched on them. If they have no lines, the airlock chambers should be filled halfway. The cap can stay on the airlock during the fermentation, it is not airtight and will allow gases to escape. It is on there to keep out dust, debris and other alien stuff....
You are now waiting for your "wort" to cool down to 80 degrees or less. It is VERY HANDY to have a stick-on thermometer stuck on the outside of your fermenter - this keeps you from having to open your fermenter and stick floating thermometers into it over and over again. Keep your fermenter in a cool location to help drop the heat down as quickly as possible. It may take five minutes or it may take five hours to cool your wort down to this 80 degree temperature don't worry. If the stick-on thermometer is all black, you are above 80 degrees leave your fermenter alone and do not open it. Once your stick-on thermometer starts to show colored squares, you are at or below 80 degrees. Now add your yeast.
Carefully cut or rip open your yeast package. Dried yeast should be sprinkled over the top of the beer. Do not stir, touch or agitate the beer after the yeast has been added it is not necessary. Just sprinkle the granules onto the warm liquid, and let them be. If you are using a liquid White Labs yeast, allow the vial to warm up to room temperature (which takes two to four hours outside of the refrigerator), and then agitate well to loosen up any sediment on the bottom of the vial. Open the tube and pour out the liquid into your fermenter.
Once you have added the yeast, keep the fermenter above 60 degrees if you are making an ale. (Also keep the bucket on linoleum or tile in case foamy krausen should come out through the airlock - DO NOT FERMENT ON CARPET - see specifics below.) Within 12 to 24 hours the airlock will be "blooping" and bubbling. It will continue for 1 to 21 days - this is a big "x" factor, so just let it run its course. For most beginning batches, you will be ready to rack the beer into a secondary glass fermenter in about two to five days, but - as always - treat each beer individually and never assume. Let it keep going until it slows down.
In some cases - usually due to warm pitching temperatures - or warm "ambient" temperatures - the foam may bubble through the airlock, or even pop the lid off the bucket. This happens much more often in summer than in winter, but is not a problem. Just clean everything up, rinse out the clogged airlock and re-assemble it all securely. If it happens again, repeat the cleaning process and it should slow down within 24 hours and becoming a normal (not-foaming-out) fermentation. With our 8-gallon primary fermenters that we recommend (and promote) over smaller 6-gallon (or 5-gallon) fermenters, you usually will not see foam bubbling out. The larger the primary fermenter the better. If you ferment in 5 or 6-gallon fermenters, you will see foam coming out the top of your fermenter on a fairly regular basis - be prepared for it and deal with it as best you can. Upgrading to an 8-gallon fermenter will save you a lot of hassles....
In any case, when the bubbling in the airlock slows down to one bubble every ninety second interval, siphon your beer off of the sediment in the primary and transfer the liquid into the (secondary) fermenter. This shoud be either a five-gallon glass carboy, or a five-gallon Better Bottle. Be sure that everything the beer will touch is sterilized first. For more details, see our page of racking. Leave behind the sediment at the bottom of the bucket. Also, be sure your hose goes all the way into the bottom of the carboy. Do NOT run the beer down the wall of your secondary fermenter, EVER. Also, do NOT let it drop a foot down and cascade in like a waterfall (a "beerfall"?) The tube should go all the way down to the bottom of the receiving fermenter so that there is minimal splashing.
Once all the beer is in transferred, move the airlock over to the glass carboy. Carboys sometimes vary in hole size, so the rubber stopper that fits in the lid of your bucket may not be the same size as the carboy. In our starter kits, we provide you with two different rubber stoppers. Put the appropriately-sized one in. Be sure to sterilize if necessary. Let the beer sit for one to two weeks in the secondary where the activity should be slim to nothing. You should see the beer slowly settling out it will appear to be darkening with a layer of white or tan yeast forming on the bottom of the carboy. Once you have a nice white layer of sediment stuck to the bottom, it will be ready to bottle.
Please see our page of bottling for more info on bottling your homebrewed beer....
Papazian's Joy of Home Brewing should get you through most of the rest, but if you have any questions, always feel free to call. Anytime. Happy ferments.